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Report Lauds Diversity's Challenges

(The 1992-1993 Report of the President appears today as a special supplement to Tech Talk.)

Diversity on the nation's campuses has created discomfort, tensions and a "tendency toward fragmentation," but it is also the source of renewal and growth, MIT President Charles M. Vest says in his annual report to the community issued today.

"The intellectual and social map of MIT, and the world in which MIT operates, is marked by increasing diversification," Dr. Vest said. "These changes are the causes of discomfort and tension. They are also the source of renewal and growth.

"We should welcome these changes and the opportunities they bring. And we should rise to the challenge they present: to recognize the importance of our varied talents and backgrounds while renewing a sense of common vision and purpose. We need to value, celebrate and build on our differences, but also to rediscover and renew our mutual commitment to the shared values of academia. We must have community. We must have mutual respect. We must have common purpose.

"It is time to come together, to rediscover unifying forces, and to integrate our energies to solve grand problems.

"Some delineation along racial, ethnic and other lines is appropriate," Dr. Vest said.

"It is certainly true that studies of human affairs require examination from the perspectives of the various peoples who have led or participated in them. Then, too, individuals gain a sense of identity, a sense of history and a sense of purpose that derive in part from exploring and affirming their personal heritage. That is why it is appropriate for there to be ethnic interest groups, women's groups and other culturally based activities on our campuses."

"But there are lines that can be crossed from the productive to the counter-productive," he continued.

This occurs, he said, "when we move into too much self-centeredness. At some point, a community ceases to be inclusive if its constituent groups all define themselves in exclusivist terms, regardless of whether they comprise a majority or minority, or whether they have come recently to the table or have been there since the inception."

Dr. Vest noted that MIT has become a "multicultural campus" characterized by "remarkable heterogeneity, especially among the students. This heterogeneity, depending on the context, is viewed as providing a great resource and opportunity, as demanding new institutional services and responsibilities, or as establishing new tensions on campus," he said.

"As faculty and administrators across the country grapple with these new realities, they are caught in a vise of political opinion-the `politically correct' arguments of the left and of the right.

While such tensions are very real, he said, "so are the opportunities and responsibilities that it makes possible."

"We need to find ways for our differences of experience, culture and perspective to enrich rather than divide our community. The electrical engineer and the mechanical engineer are able to build systems together that neither can build alone. Men and women together create a balanced discourse and world view. Black and white. brown and yellow. red and tan. create a campus and a nation far more meaningful and creative than any alone."

A version of this article appeared in the October 20, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 10).

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